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Conferences bid bishops farewell, contribute to pension fund


Conferences bid bishops farewell, contribute to pension fund

July 6, 2004                             


This story is based on reports filed by individuals in the annual conferences. It is intended as an overview and not an exhaustive record of every conference action. Editors may want to localize this story for their publications. Individual reports can be found here. Photographs are available.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

United Methodist News Service


United Methodists said goodbye to retiring bishops, endorsed and affirmed episcopal candidates for the church’s five jurisdictional conferences and generously contributed to a pension program that will support retiring pastors in the central conferences during their annual conferences this year.

Throughout the sessions, church members also contributed to global concerns with donations and supplies, welcomed central conference visitors, sought ways to help with the rising costs of health care and prayed for peace.

Twenty U.S. bishops presided over their last annual conferences as episcopal leaders. They will retire from active service in September after their successors are elected at jurisdictional conferences in July.

“After 43 years of appointment, I want you to know that the dominant reality against failure is joy… There is joy in this calling,” said Bishop Woodie W. White, during his sermon to those being commissioned and ordained in the North Indiana Conference. White will retire from the active episcopacy following 12 years in Indiana and 8 years in Illinois,

Central Conference Pension Fund

Members of the North Central New York Annual Conference, one of the first conferences to meet, asked all other conferences within the United States to join them in support of the Central Conference Pension Fund by contributing 100 percent of the check each conference receives from the United Methodist Publishing House to the fund.

Delegates to the 2004 United Methodist General Conference voted to add a provision to the church’s law book, The Book of Discipline, establishing a pension plan for clergypersons in central conferences, which are regional units of the church in Africa, Asia and Europe. Many retired pastors in Africa live in extreme poverty.

“Pensions for all United Methodist clergy, regardless of where they live and serve, are part of our moral obligation,” said the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which closely relates to the central conferences. U.S. clergy have long had a pension plan.

Conferences contributing to the fund included South Indiana, North Indiana, Greater New Jersey, North Central New York, West Virginia, Wyoming, the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, North Carolina, South Georgia, Virginia and Oregon-Idaho.


Partnerships celebrated, visitors welcomed


Central conference visitors were welcomed at many conference sessions. The Africa University choir, for example, visited several conferences as part of a tour promoting the university.

The Dakotas Conference collected a $15,000 love gift for Africa University in honor of Bishop Michael Coyner and his wife, Marsha; the Illinois Great Rivers Conference approved a resolution for a funding campaign for the Richard Reeves Building and Maintenance Endowment Fund. Other conferences funded scholarships for students to attend Africa University.

Detroit Conference churches sent cash donations of more than $52,500 for children in Liberia and Haiti. Members also filled a 40-foot container with school, medical and sewing kits for Liberia, plus enough additional kits to fill a 20-foot container. The Liberia Annual Conference and the Methodist Church in Haiti are mission partners of the Detroit Conference.

The Minnesota Annual Conference will enter into a partnership with the Northwest District in the Eurasia Area of the United Methodist Church to construct a building in St. Petersburg, Russia, to include space for worship, lay training and social programs.

The Wisconsin Conference welcomed 16 clergy and lay guests from the Dongbu (East) Conference of the Korean Methodist Church. Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader and Bishop Oh-Suh Kwon shared in the covenant bringing the two conferences together in a sister relationship.

The Holston Conference raised $106,332 for India’s “Hope for Today” mission and $38,220 for “Change for Children” grants benefiting needy kids.

Mission efforts of the Desert Southwest Conference focused on the “Child of God.” Each congregation was asked to bring stuffed animals for distribution to organizations that minister to or serve children in need. Additional monetary gifts were collected to purchase an Ark of Animals through Heifer Project International. Nearly 9,000 toys were rounded up and more than $3,000 was “Ark-marked” for Heifer. Offerings at other worship services totaled almost $9,000 for Angola, Honduras, the Youth Service Fund and scholarships.

Children also were a focus of Pacific Northwest United Methodists. The conference raised money for continued support of orphaned children living in the South Congo, and for Kids for Hope, a summer camp program that brings Palestinian children to the Pacific Northwest for fellowship, learning and respite from the trauma caused by violence in their homeland.

Resolutions on the war in Iraq

The Northern Illinois and California-Nevada conferences passed resolutions opposing the war in Iraq. The resolutions state in part: “We have failed, in sum, to be the Church, to be agents of God’s peace and reconciliation on earth, to live by the rule of love which casts out fear and to be faithful witnesses of a justice-demanding God. We are sorry and we repent, asking God’s forgiveness.”

Detroit Conference members adopted a resolution praying “that the mission of the United States in Iraq will help fashion a responsible and representative Iraqi government, legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqis and the world.”

Under the theme, “Healing Streams in the Desert,” the West Michigan Annual Conference heard Bishop Linda Lee list the ways human beings are wounded: war, hatred and hostility, fear, illness, conflict.

Health insurance

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Woody Woodrick

The Rev. Eric Pridmore kisses Gene, his Seeing Eye dog at the Mississippi Annual Conference meeting in Biloxi June 3.
Many conferences grappled with the issue of rising health care costs. In Iowa, the conference voted to discontinue the conference’s self-insured health plan in favor of contracting with a statewide health care plan and made participation in the health insurance plan mandatory for all clergy and conference employees working at least three-quarters time.

The New York Conference adopted stricter regulations for timely payment of insurance premiums and the conference apportionment for clergy support. Late payment of these amounts will jeopardize insurance coverage for clergy in the delinquent churches.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference adopted a budget of $17.8 million, which includes $1.5 million in new money to begin to replenish health insurance claim reserves and other funds.

The Troy Conference voted to change the conference’s status with the denominational health plan, becoming a mandatory-enrollment conference instead of a voluntary-enrollment conference. Troy was one of only two remaining voluntary-enrollment conferences.

Kansas West adopted a petition directing the Board of Pension to develop and implement by Jan. 1, 2005, a plan for all three-quarter time or greater appointments to share the cost of the conference’s health insurance plan through direct billing. The conference also adopted a “Healthy Lifestyles” initiative that will help churches and their leaders establish healthy lifestyles and encourage healthy living in their communities.

New Mexico approved continued participation in conferencewide property, liability and workers compensation insurance and celebrated the loss of 2,400 pounds of weight by clergy and lay delegates last year with an offering for world hunger which was nearly a dollar a pound.

United Methodists in Oregon-Idaho voted to retain apportioning 10 percent of the health-care premium for active clergy serving local congregations, thus adding $195,000 to the conference budget.

What was expected to be a heated discussion concerning an increase in clergy health insurance costs was averted in the Memphis Conference when the chief executive officer of Methodist Hospital in Memphis stepped forward to offer deep discounts to clergy for outpatient and inpatient costs and a decrease in prescription costs.

Methodist Healthcare was responding to the urging of the bishops of the three annual conferences (Mississippi, Arkansas and Memphis) that were originally involved in the creation of the hospital system. Further negotiations will be taking place with eventual implementation scheduled for Oct. 1. Conference leaders expect to save $400,000 to $500,000 per year through the Methodist Healthcare plan.


Reduced districts

Many conferences are reducing the number of districts in their areas.

East Ohio will be restructuring the conference from 12 districts to 10 in July 2005.

In the New York Conference, the number of superintendents was reduced from eight to six. The final six district lines will be established at the 2005 conference session.

The 2004 session marked the dissolution of the Pittsburgh East District as the Western Pennsylvania Conference reduced its districts and superintendents to 10.

The Kansas West Conference voted to reduce the number of districts from seven to six beginning July 1, 2005. The conference voted to continue conversation with Kansas East over becoming one conference and to petition the South Central Jurisdiction for permission to merge if the conferences can agree on a plan of union during the next quadrennium.

The “severe financial and staff situation” was also a key concern for United Methodists in the Germany North Annual Conference. Members agreed that new structures are needed to better serve all existing congregations and urged small congregations to join larger circuit units.

Conference members in New Mexico voted to reduce the number of districts from four to three. In Northwest Texas, the conference voted to reduce the number of districts from six to four by 2005.

Delegates approved the Florida Conference Cabinet’s “Connecting for Transformation” proposal, which will reduce the conference’s districts from 14 to nine, encourage churches to be part of a cluster group of churches within their district and change the responsibilities of district superintendents.


UMCOR response

Conferences responded to disaster relief with donations of money and supplies to United Methodist Committee on Relief.

In the Peninsula-Delaware Conference, an offering for the continued efforts of the disaster recovery efforts from the devastation of a hurricane that swept through the area in 2003 brought in just over $11,000. Conference members in Western Pennsylvania contributed 14,500 relief kits for UMCOR.

The Rev. Paul Dirdak, deputy general secretary for UMCOR, announced that United Methodists in the Louisiana Conference demonstrated a 41 percent increase over last year in their giving to “One Great Hour of Sharing,” the highest giving increase in the denomination. Louisiana’s United Methodists also collected more than 21,000 baby blankets for needy families, facilitated by the Bishop’s Initiative on Children and Poverty.

The Virginia Conference collected 25,509 health kits, more than 13,500 school kits and 2,194 baby kits, as well as $42,000 in donations. They also bagged 41,800 pounds of potatoes at a potato drop sponsored by the Society of Saint Andrew and Board of Global Ministries.

The California-Pacific Conference’s United Methodist Volunteers In Mission collected health kits for UMCOR. The more than 2,000 kits collected will be sent to Haiti, where recent storms and mudslides have killed 2,000 people and left many injured and homeless.


Mission outreach

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo courtesy of
Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference set a goal to collect one million phone card minutes.
The Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference sent out a request for churches and individuals to bring phone cards to the conference session to distribute to soldiers in the armed forces. As a result of the request, the conference received 714,518 calling minutes to be sent to troops in Iraq and other overseas assignments. The total includes 521,610 phone-card minutes and $9,645.43 in cash donations. The conference has set a goal of collecting 1 million minutes.

In Alabama-West Florida, the first-ever annual conference “Mission Day” was held on June 8. Delegates reached “Out of the Pew & Into the World,” by participating in hands-on mission work benefiting the conference area and beyond. Projects included flood bucket assembly, Habitat For Humanity pre-fabrication work, a children’s carnival, on-site home repair, nursing home visitation, layette kit assembly, food distribution and servant evangelism.


In Memphis, an afternoon of workshops on worship were filled to overflowing while conference youth spent the afternoon hours canvassing Jackson, Tenn., neighborhoods for nonperishable food items which were then trucked to local food banks.


*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

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